Flip Your Iceberg—3 quick fixes to boost workplace performance

Managing performance (you and your staff’s) takes more than sticks and carrots; you need to go below the waterline

Flipping icebergs

Apparently icebergs do flip over when the weight of the ice above the waterline is bigger than that of the underwater ice (if you don’t believe me search it on Youtube).

Managing your or your staff’s performance in the workplace is the same..? How so you say?

Well when the weight of a person’s observable performance becomes “bad” enough (the ice above the waterline) the HR specialists and coaches are brought in to flip over a person’s iceberg to expose the unseen or hidden deeper issues (emotions, assumptions and beliefs) relating to that person’s underperformance. See my crude diagram below for what I mean.

Evidence of this is seen in the way the HR department is perceived in a lot of organisations, that is, a place to go when underperformance has led to a formal process that “manages someone out”. Excuse my bluntness but I think that sucks!

What motivates me to do the work I do is the opportunity to flip peoples’ icebergs prior to them being managed out, allowing employees and their managers to jointly look at the deeper motivations that are the root cause of poor performance. Often this involves a difficult conversation which no one wants to have or both parties being unaware of the real issues at play.

A good coach breaks this deadlock providing for a middle person to “mediate out” the issues that need to be discussed and create a win-win outcome between business requirements and the employee’s needs. But you can do-it-yourself (flip your own iceberg) without getting HR involved, read on…

How to flip your own iceberg—three quick (ish) performance management fixes

I recommend you be the one to flip your own iceberg if you believe some issues are preventing you from performing; also if one of your staff is not performing then learn how to flip their iceberg and initiate a deeper conversation that goes beyond “just do as I say, get it done”. How you ask? Here are three simple methods to flip icebergs (or at least start the process):

1. Know the whole person

This sounds ridiculously simple but the number of managers I coach that do NOT invest in getting to know their direct reports and then come to me saying they are stuck in managing underperformance indicates to me that this is a quick fix for a lot of “people” issues. Often people are so busy managing up and knowing what will “please” the person they report to that they neglect to do the same downwards wrongly thinking that organisational title gives them the power to control people’s behaviour without having to get to know the “whole person” that reports to them. A whole person includes what motivates them in and out of work, now and into the future, mind, body, spirit. A key indicator of whether you have a “whole person” relationship with a direct report or your manager is if you can discuss your dreams and ambitions that may result in you leaving your current role or even the organisation. Having this level of openness and transparency will resolve most below the waterline people issues that lead to underperformance. Another key sign is your ability to talk about emotions in the workplace (yours with your manager and your reports with you) and not treat people like robots, emotions as a key indicator to someone’s beliefs/values, look out for them as signals to deeper issues.

2. Re-position the HR department/function

Bring in HR early in the performance management process or learn HR skills to perform the functions yourself (if they are not willing to help). This is an investment in a core managerial skill. Topics you may consider may include short soft skill courses in difficult conversations, managing conflict, coaching/mentoring. But a word of caution, doing the course is NOT enough you must implement these new skills on-the-job, learning as you do. My personal opinion is that the legal aspects of HR should only be involved in performance management as a very last resort and only when you have taken all reasonable steps to flip your report’s iceberg. To do anything else is lazy management (harsh but reasonable). The same applies for your personal performance; ask HR what they can do for you before you hit a performance plateaux, up-skill yourself and learn how to self-coach (to do anything else means you are not fully utilising what’s on offer in your org).

3. Beef up your development plan and associated process

Often I come into a new coaching relationship and straight away ask to see the person’s current development plan. What I look for are signs that the above two points are included in the plan. Does the development plan consider the whole person and use the HR function to the appropriate level; is the person upskilling on the “softer” skills required to perform AND are they (or are you) being held accountable for observable behavioural change that indicates progress in these skills. The answer is usually no, with most plans containing stick and carrot incentives or operational “to dos”. This would not be so bad except that a lot of development plans are not used throughout the year and are simply a process that must be followed to be compliant with organisational policy. So I suggest you try to re-design the way the development plan and associated process is used, turn it into a whole-of-person iceberg flipping activity (for you and your reports) that builds on a your and your reports’ deeper motivations whilst complying with appropriate policies.

Good luck and if you can think of any other iceberg flipping activities please comment below or drop me an email and I’ll share them back to my readers.


my online self-development course provides a do-it-yourself iceberg flipping series of videos that get to the root cause of your personal performance issues at work. For readers of my blog I am providing you with the opportunity to have access to the first five videos that will “Flip Your Iceberg” free of charge!

Simply go to yourselfatwork.com and choose the “Flip Your Iceberg” subscription and enter the coupon code: iceberg

Social Share Toolbar
Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Change behaviour, Manage emotion

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>